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June 22, 2009

Supreme Court grants cert on federal sex offender civil confinement

As detailed in this order list, the Supreme Court this morning granted cert on United States v. Comstock, which concerns Congress's authority to enact a federal statute permitting court-ordered civil commitment by the federal government of “sexually dangerous” persons.  This case technically has more to do with congressional power than with sex offenders, but the sex-offense setting still makes this a case to watch for sentencing fans.

Some related posts:

UPDATE:  At SCOTUSblog here, Lyle Denniston has this description of the grant in Comstock and the other criminal justice case that the Justices took up today:

The Supreme Court, granting review of three cases Monday, agreed to settle the constitutionality of a 2005 law giving federal officials authority to order the long-term confinement of individuals considered to be sexually dangerous (U.S. v. Comstock, 08-1224).

In an important case on the scope of “Miranda rights,” the Court said it would decide whether those warnings to a suspect in police custody must exclude an explicit assurance that the individual may have a lawyer in the room while questioning goes on (Florida v. Powell, 08-1175).

June 22, 2009 at 10:31 AM | Permalink


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Florida v. Powell ought to be interesting for a couple of reasons. First, we'll see if Roberts or Alito join Scalia/Thomas' position in Dickerson (by the way, Scalia'a Dickerson dissent is a great read). Second, given that Miranda is not a constitutional command, we'll see how much guts the libs have. Are they really going to hairsplit when the thing isn't required by the Constitution in the first place.

By the way, isn't it funny. The Obama Administration is reading terrorists their Miranda rights, and it's not even required by the Constitution.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 22, 2009 11:32:39 AM

federalist. Stop acting like a baby. You can disagree with Obama's policy on political grounds, but the solution to that is the ballot box not the Constitution. Your whimpering is just unbecoming.

"By the way, isn't it funny. The Obama Administration is reading terrorists their Miranda rights, and it's not even required by the Constitution."

I think that makes his policy more admirable, not less.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 22, 2009 1:41:55 PM

Au contraire, Daniel. I'm not sure I am even criticizing Obama with that post. The Supreme Court has created Miranda "rights", which are quasi-Constitutional rights, and now, because of uncertainty, they are being read to terrorists. Weird how Miranda has metastized? Would anyone have thought that Miranda applied to the battlefield when it came out?

Posted by: federalist | Jun 22, 2009 2:23:13 PM

"Miranda on the battlefield"? Oh, please. Spare us the dramatics.

Miranda advisals are being given to people who have been detained because they are suspected of committing a crime. Gitmo is no more a "battlefield" than your local police station.

Posted by: CN | Jun 22, 2009 3:19:13 PM

Perhaps, CN, you could deal with the issue--an extraconstitutional right granted to garden variety criminals is now being granted to terrorist captured by our nation's military overseas. Could anyone have foreseen that metastasis?

Posted by: federalist | Jun 22, 2009 4:05:26 PM

I could forsee that if the government captures a person who has committed a crime against Americans, the government might want to bring that person to justice in an American court. And if the person is tried in an American court, the government has to comply with the Constitution, U.S. Code, and dictates of the Supreme Court. Ergo, the government would have to comply with Miranda.

Not so hard to imagine.

Posted by: CN | Jun 22, 2009 4:37:57 PM

Well, CN, surely a brilliant legal mind such as yours would understand (a) that the Miranda right itself would not have been created if, as a matter of first impression, a terrorist captured overseas was what reached the Supreme Court and (b) Miranda itself is riddled with exceptions, one of which has to do with public safety (Quarles, I believe, is a seminal case)--one would think, of course that interrogating terrorists captured on the battlefield would fit under Quarles, but hey, who knows. But putting all that aside, Miranda is not a Constitutional command (see Dickerson), and it's being applied to terrorists caught overseas. That's weird.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 22, 2009 4:55:50 PM

"the Miranda right itself would not have been created if, as a matter of first impression, a terrorist captured overseas was what reached the Supreme Court"

I don't know about that. Not everyone is panicked out of all sense of reason at the mere mention of the words "terrorist" and "terrorism."

Posted by: CN | Jun 22, 2009 5:16:23 PM

federalist. The problem I have with what you are saying is that you seem to be confusing a policy with a right. If Obama choses to read Miranda to terrorists (your phrasing) then he's doing so as a matter of political policy, not as an extension or metasizing of a constitutional right. Could anyone have foreseen his policy? As a constitutional matter, who cares. Does the carpenter foresee his chair as a murder weapon. Frankly, I hope not. But if it's used that way, no one blames the carpenter. Obama could be reading terrorists The Cat in the Hat. It has the same constitutional relevance.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 22, 2009 5:49:55 PM

Daniel, once Obama is going down the path of civilian trials (which is his right to do), I don't see how he can avoid Mirandizing these guys. Do you?

Posted by: federalist | Jun 22, 2009 6:04:07 PM

federalist, if the right to remain silent and to be represented is not in the Constitution as defined by Miranda, where in the Constitution does it say the government can use a confession?

Posted by: George | Jun 22, 2009 9:14:07 PM

I am the proud wife of an ex-sexoffender. I just would like to hear an opinion from anyone who will hear. My husband's probation was violated for not getting permission from his Probation officer to marry me. We were married on 09-23-2006, and they violated him on
11-17-2006, and sentensed him to 10yrs in prison. He served 10yrs (8 1/2yrs,85%) for his original crime. Isn't this double-jeopardy? It is now June 2009, and his case is in the court of appeals. I am in such distress and feel the lawyer doesn't really care. I feel like no one cares but God. Does anyone out there think this was unjust or am I the only one, besides our family/friends/church?

Posted by: Cynthiea | Jun 23, 2009 11:05:51 PM

Cynthia - If your husband was on probation upon release from prison, then it sounds like he was found guilty of more than one count. He served time on one, and was given a probation grant on the other(s.) That's not double-jeopardy, but separate sentencing on both counts. Once probation has been technically violated, the state has the right to revoke the grant, and impose the presumptive prison sentence for the remaining count(s.) Sorry. The appeal is probably on a separate issue, and regarding the original conviction on something. From some of what you said, it sounds like you live in AZ.

Posted by: Steve Tracy | Jun 27, 2009 10:17:18 PM

Is there anything new on the Comstock case since June when the U.S. Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari?

Sidney Gendin
Professor Emeritus
Philosophy of Law
Eastern Michigan University

Posted by: Sidney Gendin | Sep 18, 2009 5:39:05 AM

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